Mentors vs. Venters – 6 Tips for Mentorship

Today’s post is inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In.  This book is helpful to understand the differences between men and women in the workplace and, specifically, the obstacles women face that are both internal and external.

Sandberg tells of a mentee of hers, someone she’s helped over time by providing guidance, who returns the favor by lamenting that, “I sure wish I had a mentor.”  Sanderg is stumped because that’s exactly how she sees her relationship with this younger colleague, so she asks her to define what a mentor is to her.  The reply is “someone I can talk to for an hour each week.”  For Sandberg, that’s the definition of a therapist.

Here are some ways to describe a successful mentorship:

Business relationship – A mentorship is a business relationship first.  A friendship might grow out of a mentor relationship, but the primary reasn it exists is as a business relationship.  Venting is appropriate to do with a friend, but not with your mentor.  If your mentor is someone you can really learn from, chances are they are busy juggling challenges of their own.  Respect that and use your time together more wisely.

Reciprocal – Successful mentor relationships are mutual.  Compensation is personally defined.  A good mentor receives satisfaction from helping someone and watching them grow.  If you are sincerely trying to listen and learn, the relationship is more likely to work.

My husband is a moderator of a career networking group.  He teaches basics, like make yourself easy to be found by always including contact information in an email.  And, ditch the email address you may have made in college because borntoparty@yahoo doesn’t inspire the best response from a potential employer.  If he gets a LinkedIn invitation from someone with a cartoon for a profile photo, as 1 example, he will ignore it.

Organic – The best mentor relationships occur naturally, just like other relationships.  Asking someone to be your mentor will produce less positive results than asking a thoughtful question to someone from whom you have something to learn.

Progress dependent – A good mentor will be motivated by observing your progress and seeing evidence that you respect their time by taking their advice.  So only seek it if you intend to use it.

Plan ahead – In the example above, where I describe how asking a thoughtful question can launch a mentorship, obviously that takes some degree of forethought.  Do your homework before asking someone to help you.  Learn what you can about the subject matter and, when you get to the stumping point, that’s when you seek help.

Mentors are not sponsors – This is important for career progress.  Mentors give you guidance, but sponsors advocate for your advancement.  Men are traditionally better at seeking out sponsors and, as a result, progress more easily up the corporate chain.  Women are more comfortable seeking advice, helpful to find a mentor, but not a sponsor.




About Melanie M. Morris
Broker of Trust and Authenticity I'm really a sales executive, but I'd rather identify with these ideals rather than to simply say...I'm a seller.

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